<firstimage=”//static.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/wifi.png”>Anyone who owns a Mac is probably familiar with the ease with which AirPort operates. It seems to do a good job of automatically finding and connecting to the best available network in a given area, and switching between networks is simple.
Even so, AirPort doesn’t give you a lot of extra information about the networks located near your Mac. The signal strength is represented by a simple icon, and information like signal-noise ratio, security and connection type isn’t available at a glance. If you’re looking for this information – and more – you’ll want to consider a free Mac wifi scanner.
This creatively named software does exactly what it advertises. When opened, it automatically scans nearby airwaves for WiFi signals. You’ll find that WiFi Scanner provides a lot more information than normally available through your Apple computer. The categories of information that you’ll be provided with include channel, MAC address, wireless standard, received signal strength, noise, signal-noise ratio, and the encryption method being used to provide security. WiFi Scanner will also let you know if a detected network is an ad-hoc (IBSS) network.
For the most part, WiFi Scanner is used simply to find networks and provide information about their signal strength, security and connectivity. However, you can use the program to easily create a ad-hoc network by clicking the Create IBSS button. You’ll then be prompted to enter a name and password. You can, as you might have guessed, join any network listed by using the Join button. WiFi Scanner can utilize saved password information from your Mac Keychain – provided you feel comfortable giving the software permission.
As this program’s devilish icon indicates, KisMAC isn’t just a WiFi scanner. This program is a heavy-duty WiFi security and cracking application that can be used for a wide variety of tasks. However, it also works just fine as a WiFi scanner.
The information provided by KisMAC includes channel, SSID, MAC address, encryption method, current, average and maximum signal strength and the date the wireless network was last encountered. It also includes information fields called Packets and Data, but these are not directly related to using KisMAC as a WiFi scanner. You can also view the signal strength of nearby networks on a graph by clicking the second icon from the left at the bottom of KisMAC. Just be warned that this graph can be rather busy in an area saturated with WiFi.
One of the more interesting features of KisMAC is the ability to display networks on a map if you have a GPS. This can take some time, and it requires a lot of advanced setup and, of course, a GPS device that is capable of connecting to your Mac. Additional information about this feature can be found in the Kismet Wireless FAQ.
Although KisMAC has been called the ultimate WiFi scanner, I believe that title is probably related to the many things it can do which are not really WiFi scanning at all, such as cracking WiFi encryption and finding hidden networks. KisMAC is amazing software that can do a lot of things, some of which are of questionable legality, but it isn’t for users who want something quick and simple.
WiFI Scanner, on the other hand, is easy to use. All you have to do is open the program. You don’t even have to press any buttons – the program automatically begins scanning at the default setting of five second intervals. The information that it provides is quite robust, as well, so you can use WiFi Scanner to find the best network in an area just as easily as KisMAC.
The programs both detected the same networks and reported the same signal strengths, which is really as it should be, as both programs are shifting information from the same wireless card. I suggest you try both and see which works best for you.